Therapist: parental failure behind increasingly aggressive kids

Photo: Alexander Popelier, stock.XCHNG

Aggressive behavior in young children and adolescents is on the rise and there are indications that parents are increasingly unable to deal with it. Schoolteachers are ringing alarm bells and therapists are warning of the dire consequences of failing to deal with the problem in time.

Photo: Alexander Popelier,  stock.XCHNG
Unrestrained aggression in and outside the classroom is a serious problem in Czech society. The incidents range from bullying among very young children to brutal assaults by teenagers that end in grievous bodily harm or even death. Although much is said and written about the problem there seems to be scant progress in addressing it. Parents blame schools for failing to control their children and teachers blame parents for failing to bring them up properly. Child therapist Petra Vrtbovská says aggressive behaviour is a natural part of a child’s development and it is up to the parents not to let it get out of control.

“Aggression is a natural part of any human being. Aggression is there so that the person can protect himself or herself and get what they want. And it develops from the very beginning. So when we have violent children of pre-school age and older it means that there is something missing in the family which would help the kids to modulate their natural primary forces, such as aggression.”

Many therapists working with problem children agree that today’s parents often spend too little time with their children to influence their development and very often have one-sided views about what is important. For instance they place great emphasis on the fact that their child should speak two foreign languages, play tennis and at least one musical instrument but they generally underestimate the child’s psychological needs. Dr. Vrtbovská says that one of the most important things for parents to do is set limits which are essential to a child’s healthy development.

Petra Winnette Vrtbovská | Photo: Alžběta Švarcová,  Czech Radio
“There are certain needs that need to be met by parents so that children can develop a well-balanced personality. One of these needs is the need for limits. Children need to be taught by loving parents that there is behaviour which is unacceptable. Also, children should come to accept that when we want something it doesn’t always happen. So they need to be trained to be able to manage their frustration –and this is where parents sometimes fail. They fail because they do not spend enough time with their children and moreover they are not aware of these needs. To be more concrete –you have a child that wants something and maybe even has tantrums –like “I really want another hamburger Mummy and you are bad to say I can’t”. Parents have to handle this and if they handle it right the child learns that of course I am going to have strong wishes, but sometimes I have to wait and there I things that I have to resign myself to not having at all - and they have to learn that in relation to their parents. If the parent fails in this respect children get very.... they get very strong inner emotional storms and they don’t know how to handle them. So they are in the kindergarten and they handle them in a very wrong way such as by being violent to other kids. So there is something fundamental missing in how parents relate to kids and how they teach them to manage relationships with other kids, with other human beings.“

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
Polls among primary school children have shown that half of them have themselves been a target of bullying or have witnessed a bullying incident. Even teachers themselves have been a target of a physical attack or subject of ridicule on social networks. A recent survey among Czech kindergartens showed that the vast majority of them have problems with children getting out of control – being aggressive, destructive, bullying others and in a few cases even smoking. Dr. Vrtbovská who deals with such cases on a daily basis in her private practice says that schools cannot be expected to solve the problem of aggressive children – they can only point it out and help the child’s parents to deal with it.

“My practice says : the school is secondary. When there is a child with serious behavioural problems from the family teachers would have very limited chances of healing the kid. They can be restrictive, impose punishments and so on, but the child needs to be healed, to be taught that people relate to each other differently and the school does not have many tools for that or enough space for it – it does go back to the family.”

Setting these limits belatedly can be a big problem, because youngsters left to run wild no longer respect their parents as an authority. And the storm of pent-up feelings within them can get them into serious trouble –or even irrevocably impact their lives. Just a few weeks ago a court dealt with the case of two youths who made a brutal assault on two homeless men. After punching and kicking them in turn the youths left the two men severely injured, bleeding and unconscious on the ground. When they returned to the spot an hour later the men were still lying there and the boys resorted to fresh violence, urinating on their bodies before walking away. One of the men later died of his injuries.

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
Police statistics show that increasingly young aggressors vent their anger upon strangers and without any provocation - just for the fun of inflicting pain. Very often they target elderly people who don’t stand a chance against them. Dr. Vrtbovská says there is an explanation for this.

“These boys were being very brutal to somebody who was very weak. And it is interesting that when young people grow up without having limits imposed on them there is something in them that hates weakness in grown-ups. They will test if there are any limits at all by doing things that are worse and worse, just to see if somebody will stop them. And what often happens is that youngsters –when they have this deficit in set limits – they will feel very angry and very violent towards weakness. I was thinking about that case ( attack on homeless ) and it reminded me of some of the cases from my practice where some of the youngsters would get very violent towards their grandparents who were weak and very violent towards weak parents.”

Although serious failings in bringing up children rarely lead to such excesses, dr. Vrtbovská says that the lack of limitations in childhood and the fact that children have not learnt to govern their emotions paves the ground for many future problems that make life difficult.

Photo: archive of ČRo 7 - Radio Prague
“We can say that where there are no limits there is omnipotence and there is omnipotence of powers which are dangerous. That could be aggression or even sexuality when these young people - and later grown-ups - cannot handle their own strong emotional and sometimes sexual urges and they become dangerous. Very often they are violent in relationships, aggressive towards their partners and violent to their own children because there is no modulation of their emotions. And children are weak, they are helpless –just like the homeless person, who was also helpless. And that helplessness usually generates more aggression. Just stop and think about how people drive these days - driving so as to show they have power and don’t need to obey any rules. It is all linked up and this omnipotent, limitless way of living usually leads to some kind of disaster –in relationships, sometimes people have car accidents or destroy families and they leave and set up another family and it happens again. So yes, it is worrying that this generation is growing up in this way – for the future. “